PAP team in Aljunied won ground through policies, outreach and WP missteps

PAP team in Aljunied won ground through policies, outreach and WP missteps
PAP’s Aljunied GRC candidates (from left) Chua Eng Leong, Shamsul Kamar, Yeo Guat Kwang, Victor Lye and K. Muralidharan Pillai greeting supporters on Friday before the results of the recount of votes were announced.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

There would be no victory parade for the People's Action Party's (PAP) candidates for Aljunied GRC. But a day after they came within a whisker of snatching back the constituency from the Workers' Party's (WP) top leadership, a sense of triumph emanated from the five men.

Not only had the team of mostly unknowns improved the PAP's performance in Aljunied by about 4 percentage points, but they had also forced a recount. And in two of the GRC's five divisions - Serangoon and Paya Lebar - the team termed a "suicide squad" actually beat the WP by about 300 votes each.

Serangoon, in particular, marked a big turnaround for the PAP: In 2011, it had been the division to plump most strongly for the WP.

Breaking down their success in those two wards in particular and their improvement in the GRC overall, the candidates said that it was government policies that pleased the upper-middle class, intense ground outreach, and a dip in trust in the WP leadership over its town council that were the three key factors to send support their way.

Paya Lebar and Serangoon have a higher-than-average proportion of private property dwellers, a group that was pleased with social assistance policies of the past few years which included them, said the candidates.

Unlike social assistance in the past, schemes like MediShield Life and the Pioneer Generation Package did not exclude those who live in private property, noted candidate Victor Lye.

"People feel that the PAP is listening, willing to change, and able to deliver results. They feel heard," he said.

Secondly, the candidates said that their dedicated ground presence paid off. Mr Lye has been an Aljunied grassroots leader for 16 years, while his teammates all have at least two years of grassroots experience.

They have been as present on the ground as the WP MPs have been, said some residents.

For example, lawyer K. Muralidharan Pillai, the candidate in Paya Lebar, attended two wakes last night with his Paya Lebar ward activists "to see how we can be of help".

Serangoon candidate Yeo Guat Kwang, a former Ang Mo Kio GRC MP who joined the team at a late stage to shore up the slate, said that he covered as much ground as he could in the few weeks he had.

"It was very hard - most times, I met only the maid or the dog, but I tried to finish all the houses to get a random sampling of their viewpoints. We also put brochures in the letter boxes of those we could not meet, to let them know that at least we tried and we want to hear their concerns," he said.

"Even though the election is over, we won't stop."

Said Mr Pillai: "This is what grassroots politics entail. Some may perceive this as 'unglam' and mundane, but to us, it is essential we reach out at every opportunity.

"I see the results as an indication that we have been effective with our outreach."

The other two candidates on the slate were private banker Chua Eng Leong and former public servant Shamsul Kamar.

Finally, the candidates said that despite what some WP leaders maintained, the long-running saga over the opposition's management of its town council did have an effect on votes.

"Our sense was that people don't understand numbers, but they understand trust," said Mr Lye.

"Once trust has been shaken, you don't need to throw more numbers at the people."

He expressed hope that the re-elected WP team would now take steps to assuage residents' concerns: "They have won by a whisker and they are now in Parliament. It's their duty to justify the trust people have put in them."

This article was first published on September 13, 2015.
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